Release Date: May 26, 2015
Record label: Spinefarm Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Anti-Flag are angry, and they’re out to tell the politicos exactly why: on this album’s front and back sleeves, respectively, an exploding rose obscures the faces of a woman in a hijab, and a woman clad in US combat fatigues. The targets here are war, government spies, the haves and the have-nots: territory that the group’s high-octane US-punk frames with undoubted skill. Anti-Flag’s 10th LP also brings in a couple of guest stars: Tim Armstrong of Rancid lends his vocals to the Clash pastiche Brandenburg Gate, while Rage Against The Machine axeman Tom Morello frangs away niftily on Without End.
Give Anti-Flag their due: They’re pretty relentless. For more than 20 years, the spirited Pittsburgh punks have worked tirelessly to make their music count for something more than cheap thrills and mindless rebellion. But the band’s latest, American Spring, shows some cracks in the armor. “There must be more to life than this,” frontman Justin Sane muses to himself on “Walk Away”.
Sometimes, when a band makes essentially the same album over and over again, it’s depressing because it’s indicative of a creative rut; however, in the case of Pittsburgh punk rockers Anti-Flag, the thematic repetition of their music is sad for a much bleaker reason. Across 19 years and nine studio albums, in addition to a handful of EPs and collaborations, the group’s politically-charged lyrics have remained largely unchanged. Of course, the problems they were confronting back on albums like Die for the Government (1996) and Underground Network (2001), by and large, haven’t gone away.
For almost 25 years, Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag have been holding a mirror up to the world’s ills and injustices with their ferocious, socially conscious punk. Though the fact the planet is still as fucked up as ever must be disheartening, at least it’s given the band ample inspiration for their 10th full-length. As such, these 14 songs find the band raging as hard as they ever have—whether on the boisterous anthem that is “Brandenburg Gate” or the pissed-off invective of “Walk Away.” This isn’t just mindless bluster; vocalist Justin Sane is as demanding and convincing as ever, and by the end of the record you’re left with the feeling that maybe, just maybe, it is possible to make this world a better place after all.
These 14 purpose-punk "anthems" (songs with loud multi-tracked vocals during the choruses) sound like Anti-Flag hastily thawed them out of mid-90s cryogenic stasis in a moment of frenzied conviction that we've never needed them more. "I'm gonna break / gonna break break something / break break something / break something today" goes one song, but you'll have to look up its accompanying 500-word essay in the heavily annotated booklet if you want to find out what the song's really about: a treatise on alienated labour, with heavy nods to Marx and Thoreau and an extensive bibliography of further reading. Did you read through all that yet? Great, now head on out there and break something! "At least it gets people talking," fans of this album will say, imagining (along with the band) the throngs of poor, uneducated sheeple who can't figure out how to think critically on their own but apparently would really love the kind of music Anti-Flag play.