For Anti-Flag, radical politics and music are never mutually exclusive. These left-wing Pittsburgh pacifists (singer/guitarist Justin Sane, guitarist Chris Head, drummer Pat Thetic and a series of bassists) fine-tuned their bullshit detectors during the Clinton administration. Dubya’s war-fetish presidency provided even more ammunition for their anger.
The best of the Clinton-era albums, Die for the Government and A New Kind of Army, are pretty much identical in style: distorted major chords thrashed at hyper-speed through Marshall amps, tempered now and again by a punk-friendly ska twist. The subjects are predictable: attacks on status quo America, general calls for revolution and rage against nationalism, racial profiling, big business and hardcore scene hypocrisy. A typical lyric, from A New Kind of Army‘s “Outbreak”: “The president got caught getting head / So soon some people will be dead.” The same album also takes punk pioneers to task on “This Is Not a Crass Song,” while Die for the Government hits the same theme in “Rotten Future,” offering a constructive critique of you-know-who’s defeatist “no future” doctrine.
Their System Doesn’t Work for You, released on the band’s own label, is a greatly expanded reissue of the Anti-Flag half of the limited-edition North America Sucks!!!. Mobilize is half live, half studio.
Operation Iraqi Freedom inspired Terror State, which contains some of Anti-Flag’s most inflammatory (and catchy) politico rants yet. Produced by guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, the vocals sound less British and, not surprisingly, bear a resemblance to Zack de la Rocha’s righteous yowling. And the chainsaw power chords cut through the mix more potently than ever, especially on the Albini-like roar of “Power to the Peaceful.” (Don’t be misled by the Billy Bragg-ish title.) They make a detailed plea for global unity on “Tearing Down the Borders,” but appreciate the value of simple messages, as on the self-explanatory “Fuck the Flag.” Although the band’s unified barre-chord bashing can get numbing, Anti-Flag going acoustic, finding hip-hop or annexing a string section would be horribly wrong.