Remember what punk rock looked like in 2001? The landscape was very different from how it is now, that’s for sure; back then, melody, speed and punk sensibilities all went hand-in-hand, and the one thing that most everyone could agree on was that metalheads didn’t fit in. Now – as Epitaph seems to be making a vested attempt to don a full metal jacket (look at the list of new signings to the label – there’s not one punk band in the whole lot) and hardcore is ruling most everywhere else – other than the comparative old guard of bands (Green Day, Offspring and so on), there just don’t seem to be a tremendous number of punk bands on the scene (there are some, just not many) anymore.
The comparative lack of punk bands right now might be one of the reasons why Anti-Flag‘s new album sounds so good, but there’s also a very solid chance that it simply IS that good and, after three years of silence, breathes like fresh air for those who have gotten sick of the proliferation of hardcore bands which have taken over the punk spectrum.
While it takes about three minutes for the band to warm up (the weakest track on the album also happens to be the first), Anti-Flag start running after they get their legs under them and don’t take any pause thereafter. Songs like “Brandenburg Gate,” “Song For Your Enemy,” “All of The Poison, All of The Pain” and the less-than-a-minute-long, blurry/brilliant “To Hell With Boredom” all blaze through with unbridled power and passion because Pat Thetic drives each mercilessly, forcing Sane and Chris Head to never let the throttle off their guitars.
At the same time too, Sane takes the quality levels of many of these songs up a notch or two by adding some great lyric sheets; each song is a searing critique of the global social and political climate (it’s difficult to mis-read lines like “We live in a fabled world/ of dreaming boys and wide-eyed girls/ Where precious few get a fair start/ these times can break you/ these times can leave you torn apart,” and that’s only the start) but remains open enough that it isn’t easily tied to a particular time and place. That openness is one of the most inspiring things about the writing on American Spring; unlike other political punk albums, these songs are not easily tied to any one time because they are social critiques – not stuff just pulled from the headlines.
As “The Debate Is Over” crashes through to bring the album to a close, listeners will find themselves standing back in shock and surprise at what Anti-Flag have accomplished on their ninth studio album. Sure, they’ve helped make the world safe for punk rock again (that’s working-class punk – not hardcore or grindcore or multi-platinum coated, concept-adorned fare), but they’ve also attained a new level for themselves as well; Anti-Flag’s previous albums always had this problem with being a little too underformed around the edges and soft in spots, but none of that is true of American Spring. Here, each song is tight, hard and polished, and the presentation is fantastic. It may have taken almost twenty years, but Anti-Flag has locked down a genuine classic album here.