New Maps of Hell (Epitaph Records)
By Tony Ware
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New Maps of Hell, Bad Religion's 14th original studio album, does an admirable job proving that the L.A. sextet is still the epitome of a tempestuous, polemically driven punk band. The anti-establishment espousers conform here to what they do best: melodic hardcore featuring increasingly cynical, doctorate-driven lyrics that threaten to get a bit pedantic at times. For better or worse, this album could've easily been released between 1990's Against the Grain and 1992's Generator, but it also sounds comfortable following the recent spate of Bad Religion's releases with reunited/founding guitarist Brett Gurewitz.
Bad Religion albums are prickly philosophically, and New Maps of Hell continues surveying ardent, erudite topography. Now, however, the band maps an über-strident mix, interring trademark three-part harmonies deep within the roiling chords. The majority of this album harks back to the group's thrash foundations (familiar chord progressions abound, though most effectively in "New Dark Ages," "Requiem for Dissent," and "Dearly Beloved"), but there are as many bards as hooks.
The band's bruised tropes become strained at times, as most songs are caked with artificial, distracting overdrive. You won't find anything as overtly radio-friendly as Empire Strikes First's "Los Angeles Is Burning," but "Honest Goodbye" and nigh-prog "Fields of Mars" get the closest to eyeing mainstream territory.
It seems truly dubious that the members of Bad Religion will ever change the world or themselves. But this latest disc says to hell with it; Bad Religion has always championed the concept that it's better to be heard advocating sanity than to herald false saviors — politically, religiously, or musically.