You have to hand it to Bad Religion. ‘New Maps of Hell’ is the band’s fourteenth album and still they show no sign of slowing down. The band may have had their ups and downs over the years but they remain just as vital now as they did when they started. Following some indifferent releases in the 90’s the return of Brett Gurewitz to the fold for ‘The Process of Belief’ rejuvenated Bad Religion; a viewpoint that was cemented by the George Bush bashing ‘The Empire Strikes First’.
If anything ‘New Maps of Hell’ is even darker than what came before. Here the usual defiant questioning is mixed with a sense of lost idealism from the band. There are some very dark songs on this record, communicated through Graffin’s familiar intelligent lyrics. Nothing sums this aspect of the album up more than ‘New Dark Ages’ and the line “the world might end tonight”. The likes of ‘Germs of Perfection’ and ‘Submission Complete’ add further weight to the argument that this is a band seeing a very bleak world around them. In amongst the pessimism though, these aging social commentators still find a glimmer of optimism. “Raise the rebel from its grave” they implore on ‘Requiem for Dissent’. Bad Religion still have hope.
Musically ‘New Maps of Hell’ pretty much sticks with the band’s trademark sound. Explosive guitar riffs mix with charging drumbeats and those oh so familiar vocal harmonies. There is very much a ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ ethos at work here. Having said that though the band do experiment with some lo-fi production in places, notably on ’52 Seconds’ and ‘Heroes & Martyrs’. It takes a couple of listens to get used to, but it’s something that works for the band.
‘New Maps of Hell’ is another impressive release from a band that haven’t put a foot wrong since the turn of the century. This is an album that is dark and depressing in places, but it is relevant and intelligently done. There aren’t many punk bands around these days that can make you question the world around you and wrap that up in memorable songs. Thank god we still have Bad Religion.