Well this post was supposed to go up along with th Black Sabbath one in Febuary celebrating my 1st year of blogging however i have tried to write Black Flag up so many times and it's so hard for me not to go into epic rambling when there is so much to tell I've tried my best not to ramble and give you the best of basic information about this might band but every time i returned to the post it was exhausting me! But here it is a mere 4 months late.......
So as many of you who have followed this blog from it's humble beginnings will know that I kicked off this blog 1 year ago as of 13th of Feb (2.13.13) by uploading the first 40 releases on SST records this unfortunately became a bit of a killer for me as no matter how much SST stuff I posted up there were always requests for more.However after 4shared killed my account off all the SST stuff was lost along with many hours of my write ups! However some of you may have noticed that a bit of SST stuff has been creeping back in recently (BLA'ST!, Saint Vitus, Good For You) This is because I found it a bit lacking on my behalf that I was into so much SST stuff but i owned a very small percentage of it (That is on CD as I owned a shitload on vinyl but sold it all when my record player broke) with the availability of downloads i had previously seen little need to replace my vinyls with CD however I was inspired by one key event.. it was my 42nd birthday on Dec 8th last year and my lovely girlfriend asked me what I would like for my birthday and i said that it was shameful that i didn't have the whole Black Flag discography on CD only maybe 4 or 5 and she generously filled in the gaps in my Black Flag CD collection as my present and the end result was this.....
Inspired by this I have recently completed CD collections of the SST works of BL'AST! Saint Vitus and Husker Du! (Minutemen is in my sights next) Anyway in celebration of the fact that I now own the complete works of Black Flag on CD and also (even if it is very late) to celebrate the fact this blog is now 1 year old i figured I would celebrate the first year of trials and tribulations by how i began the blog with SST and Black Flag!
So as you may have guessed with my saying I'd be doing two posts on my two favorite bands that this is the sister post to Black Sabbath (HERE) having done extensive posts on the works of this great band in the past i don't wish to repeat myself too much here however i have to do them justice so here goes I will try my best...
Let's break this down first up we have "The First Four Years" now whilst this is a compilation of singles and comp tracks I decided to break this down into it's various parts within the folder and have added the "TV Party" EP to it so inside the folder you will find everything separated into it's own folders for each release along with the relevant artwork as this is far to important a section of Black Flag's catalog to hand it over as a mere compilation. Henry Rollins said in his book "Get In The Van" that The First Four years comp is "The densest batch of jams outside of "Fun House" by The Stooges" and a more fitting description there isn't! So in it parts you have SST001 "Nervous Breakdown" EP starting out life as Panic shortly before the recording of this EP the band discovered there was another punk band called panic and decided to opt for the new moniker of Black Flag which they lifted from a popular american brand of roach killing spray the nihilistic connotations of this are obviously apparent?
So with a line up of Keith Morris on Vocals, Chuck Dukowski on Bass, Greg Ginn on Guitar and Robo on drums they recorded the "Nervous Breakdown" EP this was originally recorded in 1978 and slated for release on home of proto-hardcore and LA punk Posh Boy records however after much messing around Posh Boy declined to release it and Greg Ginn sold his ham radio business Solid State Tuners and the various patents that went with it to form SST records and release the EP himself! The original press of 500 copies was sold out of the boots of cars and shopped around to various record stores on sale or return basis! It would appear that due to the number of pressings and the variations of this record that they needn't have worried about having their unsold records returned! In a mere 6 minutes this This EP tore up everything that anyone thought they knew about "punk" and can be solely credited with inventing the sound that would spawn the term "hardcore". From the gnarly thrashing guitars of Greg Ginn to Keith Morris's Snotty vocal style there's not an inch of room to spare on this EP from the opening chords to the end this EP just grabs you by the hair and drags you through the dirt of the backstreets and seedy dives of LA and leaves you behind a dumpster in some forgotten alley!
Next Up is the "Jealous Again" 12" why they chose to put this out as a 12" i don't know as it clocks in a mere 20 secs or so longer than "Nervous Breakdown" so it's 2 years since they began and already Keith Morris is gone and late 1979 is replaced by Ron Reyes on vocals,This 12" is still in the same raw basic hardcore style of "Nervous Breakdown" and has many of their most well known anthems on it aside from the title track there's "Revenge", "No Values" the controversial "White Minority" and of course the Chuck Dukowski sung "You Bet We've got Something Personal Against You" a serious dig at former vocalist Morris's appropriation of Black Flag songs and riffs for his then new band Circle Jerks. As well as some demos recorded and released on the "Everything Went Black" and of course the famous appearance in Penelope Spheeris "The Decline Of Western Civilization" Documentary Reyes tenure in the band was short lived. So after 6 months of searching for a singer Black Flag finally asked SST office regular Dez Cadena to sing for the band and this to my mind is where Black Flag moved into the musical territory that made them the legend they are today. If you listen to the "Six Pack" and "Louie Louie" singles (tho the latters a-side run through the old cover band classic is nothing spectacular Dez's take on "Damaged I" on the b-side is just ferocious) and the 2 compilation tracks "Clocked In" from "Cracks In the Sidewalk" or "Machine" from "Chunks" and you will hear a way heavier more complex gnarly and all round menacing Black Flag setting the template for forthcoming album "Damaged"
Interlude.... So I have at this point been coming back and forward to this post for about 2 months now I have been avoiding it due to the mammoth task this write up is and also because I have written up all this Black Flag stuff before but much as i respect Black Flag and the fact that they are my favorite band I think at this point I'm gonna have to call a halt to the "History Lesson" here. If you want to know more about the history of Black Flag I cannot recommend highly enough you read Steven Blush's book "American hardcore" which has a full and lengthy chapter on Black Flag with input from the majority of the band or Henry Rollins "Get In The Van" which chronicles the end of Dez's era as vocalist and the entire story of Black Flag from 1981 - 1986.also worth checking out because it's way easier and cheaper to get is James parker's "Turned On" a biography of Henry Rollins whilst unofficial and also written way after the fact by someone who wasn't "There" the majority of the book covers Henry's time in Black Flag and has some choice stories from some of the people on the periphery of the SST machine like Ratman and his brother who built the famous Black Flag speaker racks and people like Mugger and Davo who were essential parts of the Black Flag machine.As I'm beginning to realize that the amount of time and work i've put in here so far and I've only just covered "The First Four Years"
*UPDATE* You can read almost the entire "American Hardcore" Book online FREE including the comprehensive chapter on Black Flag and SST I mention above so you now have NO excuse to not have a read and get the inside story for yourself! I have tried to link you to the beginning of the Black Flag chapter, but the link below the picture below will take you to the middle of the Chapter just scroll up a bit and look for the title "BLACK FLAG & SST : THIRSTY & MISERABLE"
So If you have just read the above passage then on we go.....
So 1981 Henry Rollins is in on vocals and Dez Cadena is on rhythm guitar Having signed a deal with a local label/Studio Unicorn due to them having distribution by major label MCA Black Flag entered the Unicorn Studios to begin the sessions for the album that is still the template and the benchmark for ALL raging hardcore "Damaged" (MCA utterly hated the album and withdrew their distribution,one of their execs was famously quoted as saying "As a parent I found this to be an Anti-Parent record" Black Flags response to this to add the sticker pictured below to the album cover to obscure the MCA logo)
To my mind this is a damn near perfect hardcore record from the packaging to the songs,lyrics and sound this is a moment captured in time that can never be copied or equaled the Ed Colver photo on the cover of a shaven headed Rollins reflected in the shards of a fist shattered mirror whilst a strikingly powerful image could not have even begun to prepare people for the contents of this album, whilst i have to admit over the years i have grown to dislike opening track "Rise Above" due it's chanted choruses and, what comes across as a little corny in 2014 is the whole "we are tired of your abuse try to stop us it's no use" compared to the rest of the album, with the exception of TV party which is in a similar vein, whilst that song is quite a clever satire "Rise Above" is kinda like teenage rabble rousing type of stuff, however that being said and it being a purely personal opinion the opening cymbal and descending riff is just mind melting and the dynamic on display with Robo hitting the snare and hi hat for a full minute whilst Ginn rides that riff before unleashing the bass drum for the 1st verse is sheer musical annihilation where the weight of the entire sound can be felt crashing down upon your head! This album is definitely not an easy listen this is an album chock full of distorted dueling guitar, rumbling bass insanity and Rollins back when he had something to prove to the fans and to his band and i have to say that Rollins sonic resemblance on this album to the vocals of Dez Cadena who preceded him is definitely apparent, this is a far more raw Henry Rollins in both experience and age than the vocal style he would later make his own on other albums this is especially noticeable on closing slow crawl "Damaged I" I once heard a quote about this song that said "Rollins screams himself hoarse until you literally feel the spit frying on the back of his throat" and i don't think i could sum up his performance here any better! For all the Rollins bashing there has been over Black Flag's career and how he "ruined the band" I don't think this album could have been any better than it is how it is and how it was captured even if say Dez had retained the vocal spot instead of moving to guitar.
So as many of you may or may not know Unicorn were a mess of rip-offs the story has been well documented elsewhere so Black Flag were thrown into 2 years of litigation and legal battles which nearly killed the band and SST records it was only Greg Ginn and the SST crews complete faith in their band and vision that saw them through this, Banned from releasing anything under the Name Black Flag due to still being under contract to Unicorn Black Flag released the Double compilation album "Everything Went Black" this contained a side each of pre- Rollins demos from each of the preceding 3 singers and is a blistering document of the early era of the band. It came packaged in Pettibon artwork with pseudonyms for the members and no mention of Black Flag to be seen anywhere on it's cover in a vain attempt to keep money flowing for the court case but prevent the band getting into further legal strife however this once again landed them back in court and Greg Ginn in jail! During this time Black Flag had burned through drummer Emil and had recruited Chuck Biscuits of D.O.A. they then secretly recorded the much bootlegged "1982 demos" being the front runners and the benchmark for the US hardcore scene Ginn was extremely (And justifiably) paranoid about having his new material ripped off before Black Flag even had a chance to record it, to the point where all SST outsiders were banned from any Black Flag practices. These 1982 demos are the only place you will ever here any post "Damaged" material with the mighty Dez/Ginn 2 guitar line up whilst the quality of the bootlegs are nowhere near the standard of their recorded material this recording does set the template for the rest of Black Flag's musical career and contains songs that would eventually end up on albums as far ahead as "Slip it In" and "Loose Nut" to say that Ginn had vision is an understatement! There are some blistering versions of the forthcoming material on here mainly drawn from what would become "My War" however there is a seriously painful crawl through "Nothing Left Inside/Scream" where Ginn and Dez go into solo meltdown it is in fact so insane i think I may have only made it through the whole 12 minutes of it once maybe twice! A CD version of these bootlegged demos entitled "No Deposit No Return" was released and had a 1984 Radio Tokyo session tacked on as bonus a live in the studio run through 3 tracks from "My War" and is pretty great quality and some blistering versions of the band at their peak! below you will find links to The "Everything Went Black" album (minus the radio commercials) the "1982 Demos" and the Radio Tokyo session.
So Moving on after 2 years of no recording and touring the "Damaged" set to the point of exhaustion (Ginn's paranoia about his new material being ripped off also extended to live shows so by this point they had been touring the same set for almost 3 years on their trademark extensive jaunts round the shithole backwaters of the US) Black Flag whilst financially almost ruined freed themselves from the court case with Unicorn and were finally free to record their new material some 2/3 years after writing it! "My War" with it's jazzy time signatures and full second side of sludge filled jams was a shock to fans, having not been given the opportunity to be introduced to this new material gradually through live shows etc it must have been a lot to take after the sheer scraped-raw-bludgeon of "Damaged" it is at this point Ginn's vision starts to skew because he made one hellish mistake at this point by maneuvering bass player extraordinaire Chuck Dukowski out of the band Ginn felt that Chuck's style was too "free" and basically wanted dull metronomic bass playing to back his ideas so he famously donned the "Dale Nixon" pseudonym and handled bass duties on "My War" himself. Although like many of Black Flags recordings "My War" suffers from quite flat production and coupled with the fact that the material was written for 2 guitars but recorded with one and Chuck being out you'd think this to be a terrible album but you couldn't be more wrong having enlisted the services of one Bill Stevenson on drums whilst Descendents were on hiatus this album just crackles with (for the time) fresh ideas and unique music you cannot fault any of the material on here you have 6 blistering tunes on what would have been side A on vinyl whilst the 3 smoldering slow jams on side B can be pretty much credited with inventing Sludge metal! My opinion is biased but there is not a bad song on this album tho the three slow jams are a mission for the uninitiated the rewards are there! just take one listen to the pummeling title track and you will be convinced!
Moving swiftly along as did the band... 1984 and this would see 3 albums being released "Family Man", "Live 84" and my personal favorite "Slip It In". "Family Man" was a bold move for a band whom until recently had been the front runners and flag bearers for the hardcore movement in the States, one side Of Henry Rollins recently developed Spoken word talents one side with 4 instrumentals and what would appear to be an improvised 9 minute all band track "Armageddon Man" I quite like this track however it's repetitive riffing and wild soloing whilst a great example of Ginn's free approach to guitar maybe a bit much for the die hard fans! The instrumentals are actually pretty great and really show the band flexing their chops especially Bill Stevenson who's drumming is just phenomenal here! Henry's spoken word is part claustrophobic dirty nasty and dark and part humorous have a listen to title track "Family Man" and then "Rattus Norvegicus" and you will see what I mean! Not something to listen to if you're not in the best of moods but I personally love it! "Live 84" which was originally a tape only release due to it being a full 75 mins of Black Flag live at what was supposedly their peak however much as it's a ripping run through some of their best material i always felt that this album was not the tightest most "on" live performance considering this is a band who practiced 8 - 12 hrs most days and are the only band to ever try to book rehearsal space on a Christmas day I would've expected a tighter performance but this is a warts and all no overdubs live no bullshit performance from The Stone San Francisco August 1984 and by far not the worst live album you will ever hear. So finally for 1984 at least we have "Slip It In" to me this IS Black Flag at their very best taking the sound of My War and giving it a far more sleazy edge everything on this album is razor sharp the rhythm section of Kira and Bill are locked together tight and Greg Ginn's riffs and guitar work in general are just on fire! Rollins has really found his groove here as well and his performance is just stellar from the sleazy spoken lines of the intro to the title track through blistering hardcore (albeit hardcore Black Flag style!) songs like "The Bars" and "Wound Up" to the slow crawl of "Rats Eyes" he is really in the pocket and it seems he has finally settled in to his role as front man for the biggest underground band in America at that time even though this was his 3rd album with the band. On a side not it is rumored that the regimen of rehearsal and live playing through 1984 left drummer Bill Stevenson with a sort of nervous tick when he went to his doctor about it he was asked if he had been around a lot of automatic gunfire! Yeah he's that good! There is not in my opinion a bad song on this album I defy anyone to not have there head nodding and their teeth gritting all the way!
1985- 1986 So into the final years for this band and we have no less than 5 releases to cover (tho one was recorded in 1985 and not released till 1989) ! Firstly we have album number 5 "Loose Nut" now regardless of the hardcore opinions on this band at this time Black Flag were still by far the biggest draw on the underground scene live in 1985 a ton of people were coming to see them and their music still continued to sell well and they even drew some celebrity attention (John Belushi for one was a fan) However "Loose Nut" was certainly a lot different than it's predecessor and it holds a special place for me as this was the first Black Flag I got to hear I was sold it by an older punk who assured me it would blow me away and was easily the equal of the thrashing British punk rock i was listening to at the tender age of 14 years old! So he took my money and sent me on my way sniggering behind my back as he had just got rid of what he thought was a bit of a turkey onto me and took my pocket money for the privilege!! So I got home put the needle to the record and title track "Loose Nut" EXPLODED out of my speakers it may not have been fast or strictly speaking "punk" either but this was a heavy groove the like of which i had never heard! It was nothing like anything else i listened to and i didn't at that time have any kind of reference points for it, all i knew was this band was effecting me in some way and i loved them! Best way i can describe this album is this is kinda what I'd loosely describe as Black Flag's "party" album!!! as far as accessibility goes i suppose this is as close as you are ever gonna get with these guys! there is a definite "rock" feel to this album albeit rock filtered through Black Flag's unique and skewed perception! However bear in mind that the most prized and most played music for the band at this time was early ZZ Top, Dio and Dio era Black Sabbath! This album is chock full of fat riffage and the guitar tone is gnarly and pretty heavy Take one listen to anthem "Annihilate This Week" and you will see what i mean, whilst it may have it's memorable and rocking tunes it's not without it's darker moments like "This Is Good" with it's skronky spiraling riff or "I'm The One" again laden with Ginn's trademark discordance but this album is definitely the one where Black Flag started to ROCK bear in mind also that some of the songs on this album and "Slip it In" had been written and recorded on the 1982 demos that pre-date "My War"! In the interim between "Loose Nut" and the next album Henry was doing some spoken word shows and Ginn decided to record an Instrumental EP this was "The Process Of Weeding Out" EP it's said at this time Ginn had become bitter and resentful of the adulation Rollins was receiving as the bands front man and had become obsessed with instrumental music and smoking BALES of pot (the clue is in the title of the record!) I find the 4 instrumentals here whilst again showcasing the bands immense talents as musicians are not as immediate as the instrumentals that made up part of the "Family Man" album and are in fact a little dare i say it... boring? Not a bad EP as such but definitely not the first one I would reach for when listening to these guys however it does have one of their best Pettibon covers and looks way better than it sounds......
So next up we have 6th and final album "In My Head" this was an all new Black Flag album no songs from demo's or any leftovers and coming hot on the heels of "Loose Nut" you'd think maybe they were being too prolific? but if you have followed any part of Greg Ginn's career you will know this guy is simply a riff dispensary able to generate this stuff right off the cuff! Whilst this album still retains some of the rock sensibilities from "Loose Nut" it does suffer from what in my opinion is a slightly muffled production this does not detract from the quality of songs on display here and this album contains their one and only MTV video "hit" "Drinking And Driving" in which a bare chested long haired Rollins prowls round a junkyard! This album whilst having rocking moments here and there is maybe a little more minimal in sound than "Loose Nut" and is not an easy groove either the songs are peppered with Ginn's uncomfortable fretboard runs throughout, this an altogether more "cerebral" album than "Loose Nut" where the music aims for the head rather than the hips however the riff of title track "In My Head" whilst still has those fretboard runs has an utterly irresistible groove to it which if you're head isn't nodding immediately then you should check your hearing! The cassette and later CD versions of this album contained 3 bonus tracks "I Can See You" "Out Of This World" and "You Let Me Down" that did not appear on the vinyl these were augmented by a further unreleased track from the session "Kickin' And Stickin'" and released as the 4 track 12" "I Can See You" in 1989 long after the band broke up the reason for this being i guess to give the fans a chance to own these tracks on vinyl? however I have given you "In My Head" and " I Can See You" as separate links below even tho they were all recorded at the same session I lived with "In My Head" too long as a 9 track vinyl album and felt that it should be heard in it's correct and original running order and that these two records should be heard separately. So last release for 1985 was the Live "Who's got the 10 & 1/2" album recorded at the Starry Night In Portland Oregon August 85 the original vinyl only contained 9 songs (one of which was a lengthy medley of Slip it in/Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie so you could say 10 songs) however there was a subsequent 12" "Annihilate this Week" with a further 3 tracks from the set and the cassette and later CD versions contain 14 tracks which I'm guessing is the full set? This is a fairly tight run through mainly Loose Nut/In My Head material with a smattering of the hits as well however whilst it's a better quality set than Live 84 i feel the guitar is far too quiet and the drums too loud and being the only Flag release to feature drummer Anthony Martinez who is a good and capable drummer he is NO Bill Stevenson so to my mind it's a bit of an unessential live album really but worth having... but what is better is i managed to find a bootleg soundboard recording of Black Flag's very last show live in Detroit 28th June 1986 with the line up of Rollins/Ginn/Martinez and C'el Revuelta stepping into Kira's shoes on bass whilst 12 of the 15 tracks on this live recording are culled from Loose Nut and In My Head it's a good set whilst not classic Black Flag it certainly has in my opinion a better rawer sound than "Who's Got the 10 & !/2" and is worth having for the insane jam on "Swinging Man" (*NOTE* this is track 13 in the file it is mistakenly tagged in the file as "Nothing Left Inside" but I never got round to changing it sorry) However much as it's a great set and a piece of history it's still a band on their last legs half the band are new and the other 2 hated each other! It does end with the trademark closer from the early days "Louie,Louie" and a more fitting end to the story their couldn't be. Shortly after this Rollins received a phone call from Ginn saying he was leaving the band which as it was his band was pretty much the end of Black Flag by this time Ginn had moved on to his instrumental power trio Gone (featuring the mighty rhythm section of Andrew Weiss and Sim Cain who Rollins would later enlist for his own Rollins Band poetic justice???) And that folks as they say is that..... Or is it????
Fast Forward to 2013 some 27 years since the last Black Flag show and some ex members of Black Flag decided that an appraisal of Black Flag's music was long overdue so enter FLAG  a band consisting of Keith Morris, Dez Cadena, Chuck Dukowski and BIll Stevenson with Stephen Egerton of Descendents and ALL fame replacing Ginn on guitar they ripped out some blistering live sets (See my post HERE for the evidence) so much so that Ginn was outraged, lawsuits were filed and it was a big damn mess! I am not getting into that here though you can easily find out everything about this with a quick google search! So what was Ginn's major response to this apparent affront to him? To enlist Jealous Again era vocalist Ron Reyes and some unknowns on Rhythm section and reform Black Flag! This line up hastily recorded an album entitled "What The...." and a more appropriate title you could not find really!!! Whilst as I've said Ginn can churn out tunes quicker than most people blink that's fine for his solo work and numerous projects however to resurrect the Black Flag name and release this album well to my mind it's a bigger insult to the name Black Flag than the excellent,blistering and faithful reproductions of the music that FLAG are touring that caused him to reform Black Flag in response! I am not even gonna review or dissect it there's a link below you can make up your own mind about it but with this cover how could it not be a fuckin turd.....
So that's it folks the Under The Surface Black Flag mega post I really don't have any clever words to wrap this up it's been exhausting work even with the comparatively minimal write up i have done here my words can't really do justice to what this band means to me, one of the most important bands of the 20th century I just wish that bitter old bastard Ginn would've just let it lie!!! Here's your links please...ENJOY!
First Four Years + TV Party - Mediafire
Everything Went Black - Mediafire
Damaged - Mediafire
1982 Demos - Mediafire
My War - Mediafire
Radio Tokyo Sesssion - Mediafire
Live '84 - Mediafire
Family Man - Mediafire
Slip It In - Mediafire
Loose Nut - Mediafire
In My Head - Mediafire
The Process Of Weeding Out EP - Mediafire
I Can See You EP - Mediafire
Who's Got The 10 &1/2? (Live '85) - Mediafire
Last Show (Live '86) - Mediafire
What The.... - Mediafire
Afterthought.... Over the last few years i have amassed quite a few little Black Flag and related curiosities, Ray Pettibon art, Flyers, Promo and live photo's so as I feel that Pettibon's art and those famous SST promo photos were such an important part of the Black Flag package I decided along with the music to upload my Black Flag "Images" file so here is a link to some photo's, flyers, parodies etc a kinda scrapbook to accompany the music, so here you go.......
Flyers & Stuff - Mediafire